Human Rights Watch calls for antiracism bill amendments

Pasok and Democratic Left submit their own antiracism bill

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Human Rights Watch urges the government to adopt new antiracism legislation, but expresses concerns over some 'problematic provisions' contained in the justice ministry's antiracism bill. Meanwhile, junior coalition partners Pasok and Democratic Left on Thursday submitted their own draft bill to parliament

Pakistanis who live in Greece, shout slogans at the scene where a Pakistani immigrant was stabbed to death in Athens on January 17 (AP) Pakistanis who live in Greece, shout slogans at the scene where a Pakistani immigrant was stabbed to death in Athens on January 17 (AP) Non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch has urged the government to adopt measures to combat hate crimes and protect victims of racist violence, recommending amendments to improve an antiracism bill drafted by the justice ministry.

In a statement released on Thursday morning, the NGO slams the government for not reaching an agreement on proposed antiracism legislation.

“With people being attacked on the streets, Greece urgently needs to beef up its criminal justice response to hate crimes,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This draft law contains some good provisions and should be improved in parliament rather than delayed further.”

Coalition leaders failed to reach an agreement on proposed antiracism legislation on Monday after ruling New Democracy refused to support the bill, which would criminalise hate speech as well as the denial of the Holocaust.

Junior coalition partners Pasok and Democratic Left on Thursday submitted draft antiracism legislation to parliament, defying Prime Minister Antonis Samaras who refused to endorse the bill. 

But the draft legislation, which is based on the antiracism bill drafted by Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis, has little chance of being voted for in parliament after main coalition Syriza said on Wednesday that they will not support the bill, opting to put forward their own proposal instead.

Meanwhile, New Democracy is planning to amend existing legislation to criminalise the denial of the Holocaust, as well as any expression of support for the nazi regime, it became known on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch has highlighted 'problematic provisions' contained in the justice ministry's draft bill, stressing that “while sanctioning direct incitement to violence is legitimate, speech that falls short of incitement to violence should not be criminalised, however offensive it may be.”

“The bill would toughen criminal sanctions for incitement to hatred and racist violence, but it also problematically addresses so-called denial of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity,” the  statement explains. “The problematic provisions would increase penalties for denying these crimes, which is considered a criminal offence. Additionally, the minister of justice would have the power to ban an association if one of its members commits a hate crime provided for in the bill, including such a denial.

"The measure to ban an organisation, which is hard to reconcile with the right to freedom of association, should be reviewed for its compatibility with relevant human rights standards," Human Rights Watch adds. "The case law of the European Court of Human Rights indicates that an organisation does not forfeit the right to freedom of association as a result of punishable acts committed by individual members, as long as the organisation itself is not implicated in the acts."

“There are legitimate concerns about the overbroad scope of some provisions in this bill, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction,” Sunderland said. “Parliament should have the opportunity to debate and improve the bill in line with Greece’s human rights obligations.”


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